Cuban Fast Food / Ivan Garcia

Churros-a-secret-history-1-400x330As there is no McDonald’s or Burger King, Cuban fast food is flour fritters and home-made pizza.

Bread with croquettes of uncertain origin are also popular, and donuts filled with guayaba, condensed milk or chocolate. A vast number of families on the island only prepare one hot meal a day, at night.

They have strong black coffee with sugar for breakfast. And some plain bread, or with oil and garlic. Lunch is whatever appears, depending on what money is available. It could equally be a snack in a private cafe or a disgusting bread and pork in a state eatery.

The star “fast foods” in the Havana streets are the croquettes and fritters.  A perfect “wild card”.  Since they are cheap, they have become the “peoples’ food”.  You can serve it for breakfast or lunch and for dinner for the poorest folk.

Noelvis has become and expert fritter-maker. He works 12 hours a day. “I sell up to 900 fritters a day. My profits are around $400 or $500 pesos. I also sell loose croquettes for a peso or bread with two croquettes for five.  A fritter costs a peso. I prepare some dough with white flour and add well-chopped chives, garlic and some off-the-shelf seasoning.  The secret is that I don’t use yeast to make the pastry rise.  I fry them in boiling oil and when I spoon them into a pot, I try to make sure they aren’t very big. I let them fry long enough so that when they cool they don’t go sticky and caramelized. After some hours they are crispy.

A packet of ten croquettes sells for 5 pesos in the state-owned fish shops. The fritter sellers buys them for resale. “I get a profit, half and half.” says Noelvis. Their ingredients are unknown. The nylon bags where they come in don’t tell the ingredients. Cubans call them “croquettes to be deciphered”.

Ricardo works in a factory where they make croquettes and gives an assurance that they are chicken based. “They use all of it, from the skin to the bones. They grind it well and make a dough. The hygiene measures are good. The people who prepare food wear rubber gloves.”

Their flavor varies. Sometimes they have a distant aftertaste of chicken, other times fish. Or they taste of nothing. They seem like plastic, artificial croquettes. But if they are eaten fully fried they don’t taste bad.

Before she leaves her house, Diana drinks a coffee and when she walks to her pre-university institute she religiously breakfasts on two flour fritters and a croquette. “To keep my figure I eat just one croquette without bread. Although with so much saturated fat it’s a little difficult. My parents give me six pesos a day, and with this money I can only buy croquettes and fritters. The lifesaver for many people.”

Another staple of “fast food” are the churros.  They were always sold thin, long and powered in sugar.  Yamila, who owns a churro station in the Luyano town, says that they are made of wheat flour and if you add a “yucca mixture they taste better. But right now the trend is to prepare them in a fatter mold and two fingers in width.  After, they are filled with a thick marmalade, condensed milk or chocolate syrup.  The profits increase significantly due to the flavors”.

Filled churros are the latest trend in Havana.  Their prices are expensive for the middle class pocket.  A churro filled with guava, mango, coconut or chocolate is approximately $5 pesos and $10 for the ones filled with condensed mild or tuna fish.

“Children are the best customers, although adults also buy often.  If you want good sales you have to get a place in a central avenue or close to a children’s park as is my case”, says Eusebio.  The market competition is aggressive.  In his zone, there are three churro posts; so they have to become creative.  “I have family in the United States and they have told me that at McDonald’s they don’t only sell hamburgers, they also do promotions.  They offer children’s menus and they give toys or balloons so that gave me an idea.  In my post, I will install a TV and the clerks will be dressed as clowns.  If you buy three churros, you’ll get another one free”.

Perhaps you can’t compare the “fast typical Cuban food” with a Big Mac or a Pollo Tropical meal in Miami, but we can also sell ours in bulk.

Ivan Garcia

Picture – Filled churros which are now in trend in Cuba, they also like them in.  countries like Spain, Mexico, Peru, USA and England.  These were taken from “Los Churros: A Secret History”.

Translated by GH

21 September 2013